Industrial Barcode Reading

How to Select a Reader

Selecting the perfect barcode reader starts with a careful examination of your code-reading application. What types of codes are you reading, how fast is the line, and how durable do you want the solution? Where the reader will be located, and with what physical restrictions? How will the reader communicate? But that's not all you need to consider.


Data requirements for your inventory or track and trace application may be only a few kilobytes today, which may make a 1-D barcode seem the most logical choice. But data requirements are likely to grow along with the size and complexity of your operation. It is worthwhile to anticipate future requirements that would benefit from a 2-D code or the ability to read compromised barcodes. You may own your distribution channels today, but growth or new clients in remote locations may necessitate a third-party logistics company, leaving you no longer in control of the code-marking quality. Investing in better technology today may minimize future equipment upgrades.

Read rates

Every time a machine or person handles your products there is a chance that the machine readable code could be damaged. So, even if a product's data requirements, shape, and size point to a 1-D barcode solution, without the built-in error correction of a 2-D code, your supply chain is at risk from every rough conveyor wheel, sharp metal fixture, or dirty glove – anything that could smudge, scratch, or compromise a machine-readable code. Without error correction, bad codes mean low read rates, more rework, and higher labor costs.

This problem isn't limited to paper and plastic packages. Even codes etched into metal can be distorted or damaged. So if supply chain accuracy is important to your business, make sure your reader can read noisy codes – such as those that are printed on cardboard or are scratched, deformed, or low contrast – not just a perfect code fresh off the printer. And when printers, imprinters, or lasers go out of specification (and they will) feel secure knowing your vision-enabled system will alert you before thousands of defective products go out the door.


The scanning environment will also indicate which type of reader you need. If your application calls for reading cartons of various sizes traveling at high speed down a conveyor, then a small fixed-mount reader will be the best choice. If the reader is the final inventory check for dock workers loading incoming materials or outgoing product, a handheld reader will be ideal. If it's a courier or technician working in the field, a mobile terminal with built-in code reading capability will help quickly scan packages or check equipment specifications.

Total cost of ownership

In order to quantify the cost impact of read rates, it's first important to understand what happens when a barcode scanner cannot read a barcode. When a "no-read" condition occurs, packages must be diverted to a station where an operator can manually key in the information or replace the defective barcode and resend the package back through the sorting system. This type of failed condition results in increased labor costs and reduced efficiency of automated sorting equipment.

Read rate No-reads Maximum number of packages/day Total rework time (man hours/day) Number of operators required to handle rework Cost of operators (USD/year)
97% 3,802 122,918 95.05 11.9 $499,012.50
98% 2,535 124,185 63.38 7.9 $332,718.75
99% 1,268 125,452 31.7 4 $166,425.00
99.50% 634 126,086 15.85 2 $83,212.50
99.90% 127 126,593 3.18 0.4 $16,668.75
Four Sigma 89 126,631 2.23 0.3 $11,681.25
Five Sigma 26 126,694 0.65 0.1 $3,412.50
Six Sigma 1 126719 0.03 0.00 $131.25

To put the effects of failed reads into context, consider a high-volume distribution center that processes more than 125,000 packages per day. If that facility improves read rates from 99% to 99.9% by adopting image based code readers, management can expect to avoid more than 1,100 failed reads per day, saving nearly $150,000 in labor costs each year, based on an average time to rework no-read packages of 1.5 minutes and hourly labor costs of $15/hour. And these are just the financial costs; also worth consideration are the soft costs, such as damage to client relations or corporate brands.

With so much on the line when it comes to automated sorting systems, remember that when durability is factored in, operational costs far outweigh acquisition costs. So choosing a consumer-grade solution for an industrial application can only end in disappointment. Look for solid solutions that minimize failure points by design.

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